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The Mandukya Upanishad explains the universal sound AUM.
Māndūkya Upanishad is the shortest of the Upanishads - the scriptures of Hindu Vedanta. It is in prose, consisting of twelve verses expounding the mystic syllable Aum, the three psychological states of waking, dreaming and sleeping, and the transcendent fourth state of illumination.

This Upanishad has been greatly extolled. The Muktikopanishad, which talks about all other Upanishads, says that the Māndūkya Upanishad alone is enough for salvation. According to Radhakrishnan it contains the fundamental approach to reality.

About the Upanishad

The name, literally "Frog Scripture", may have come about for several reasons:

1. Attribution to a sage called Manduka. Manduka means "son of Manduki" and a seer with this metronymic is mentioned in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad along with the Mandukeyas, his disciples. The Mandukeyas figure in the Bhagavata Purana as the receivers of a branch of the Rig Veda from Indra. This group of seers also figures in the Rig Veda itself: their hymns are mostly connected with lingustics.. A text on the etymology of Vedas with the name "Manduki Shiksha" deals with the notes of the musical scale.

2. Connection with Varuna. Folk etymology relates that Varuna, the Lord of Cosmic waters, took the form of a frog to preach this Upanishad. There is a hymn called the Toad Hymn (manduka sukta) in the Rgveda, ostensibly an ode to the arrival of the monsoons.

3. Manduka is also a type of yoga - a "particular kind of abstract meditation in which an ascetic sits motionless like a frog". Mandukasana is one of the asanas (postures) described in yoga.

Aum in the Mandukya Upanishad

There are three mātrās ("letters", syllabic instants in prosody) in the word aum : ‘a’, ‘u’ and ‘m’. The ‘a’ stands for the state of wakefulness, where we experience externally through our mind and sense organs. The ‘u’ stands for the dream state, in which inward experiences are available. In the state of deep sleep, represented by the sound ‘m’, there is no desire and consciousness is gathered in upon itself.

But there is a fourth, transcendent state, that of one "who is neither inwardly nor outwardly aware, nor both inward and outward, nor with consciousness infolded on itself.... who is unseen and ineffable, ungraspable, featureless, unthinkable and unnameable" The fourth state (turīya avasthā) corresponds to silence as the other three correspond to AUM. It is the substratum of the other three states.

Commentary by Gaudapada

The first extant commentary on this Upanishad was written by Gaudapada, before the time of Adi Shankara. This commentary, called the Māndūkya-kārikā, is the earliest known systematic exposition of advaita Vedanta. When Shankara wrote his commentary on Māndūkya Upanishad he merged the Kārikā of Gaudapada with the Upanishad and wrote a commentary on the Kārikā also.

Gaudapada deals with perception, idealism, causality, truth, and reality. In the fourth state of consciousness - turiya - the mind is not simply withdrawn from the objects but becomes one with Brahman. In both deep sleep and transcendental consciousness there is no consciousness of objects but the objective consciousness is present in an unmanifested 'seed' form in deep sleep, while it is transcended in turīya. Specifically, if one identifies the wordless state with turīya and meditates, one realizes the true self and 'there is no return to the sphere of empirical life'.


  1. S. Radhakrishnan. The Principal Upanishads. George Allen and Unwin. 1969
  2. Phonology: Critical Concepts by Charles W. Kreidler
  3. Monier-Williams.
  4. Swami Nikhilananda: Mandukyopanishad with Gaudapada’s Karika and Sankara’s Commentary. Shri Ramakrishna Ashrama, Mysore. Sixth edn. 1974

Further reading

  • Eight Upanishads. Vol.2. With the commentary of Sankaracharya, Tr. By Swami Gambhirananda. Advaita Ashrama, Calcutta, 1990.
  • V. Krishnamurthy. Essentials of Hinduism. Narosa Publishing House, New Delhi. 1989
  • Swami Rama. Enlightenment Without God [commentary on Mandukya Upanishad]. Himalayan International Institute of Yoga Science and Philosophy, 1982.
  • Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads [171163]. Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherrymarker. 1972.

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